Elections Commission Claims Foreign Journalists Are “Election Monitors”; Despite their Visas Being Rejected

21 September 2018, MALE: The Maldives Elections Commission has claimed that a number of international journalists will be “election monitors” during Sunday’s presidential elections, despite the fact that they have been refused a visa to enter the country.

The Elections Commission made its extraordinary assertion in a press release yesterday evening.

The Commission named a number of journalists and independent organisations who, the Commission stated, have been appointed “international observers” and “international monitors”.

The Elections Commission named journalists from The Wire, The Economic Times, The Hindu, and WION as “international observers.” However, journalists have said that their visas to travel to the Maldives have either been denied, or not issued.

The Elections Commission also named The Asian Network for Free Election (ANFREL) as “international observers”. In a tweet early Friday morning, though, ANFREL stated that “none of ANFREL’s observers have received the necessary visa to be present in the Maldives for the September 23 presidential election, despite the Maldivian Elections Commission formally listing us as international observers.”

The Elections Commission also published a list of foreign journalists who have been denied a visa to travel to the Maldives to cover the elections.

Journalists from AFP, Reuters, The Economist, All India Radio, and ARD have all been denied visas, with the Elections Commission citing pedantic reasons such as “cover letter was not submitted” or “declaration form was incorrect.”

During President Nasheed’s administration, foreign journalists were free to enter the Maldives on a tourist visa, and did not require any prior approval from the government.

During the 2013 presidential elections, journalists reported that they were able to travel to the Maldives freely to cover on the vote.

However, under President Yameen, draconian measures have been put in place to keep foreign journalists out of the Maldives, while Maldivian reporters face repeated fines, as well as police harassment.

President Yameen’s measures restricting journalists were first introduced following the 2016 Al Jazeera documentary Stealing Paradise, which exposed the President’s involvement in massive corruption, bribery, the murder of a Maldivian journalist, and plans to blow up the Auditor-General’s office.

To cover the 2018 elections, reporters were first made to apply to the Elections Commission for a permit. Then they were made to apply separately to the immigration department for a business visa, which required a Maldivian sponsor, a completed ‘vetting form’ with details of previous employment, travel history, qualifications, bank account details, and a police certificate.

In August, the Immigration Department issued a press release warning foreign journalists that they would be subjected to “punitive measures” should they report on the elections without the appropriate visa.